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Victoria Williams

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How to Write Scales

How to Write Musical Scales

Whare are musical scales? There are many types of musical scale. A scale is a series of notes which is fixed by a particular pattern of tones and semitones.

arrowSemitones are notes which are directly next to each other. (It doesn't matter what colour the keys are).

arrow

A tone is the same as two semitones.

piano keyboard

 For example:

  • E-F is a semitone
  • E-F# is a tone
  • Gb-G (natural) is a semitone
  • Gb-Ab is a tone
  • Eb-F is a tone


arrowThere are many types of musical scale. In this lesson we will look at the majornatural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor, chromatic, whole tone and pentatonic scales.

arrowIn this lesson, we use the letter S for semitone and for tone.

watch-out Use each letter name only once in each scale. (G-Ab is ok but G-G# is not.)

 

 What are Major Scales?

Major scales have 8 notes from start to finish.

Starting from the lowest note, the pattern for major scales is:

T-T-S-T-T-T-S

Here is an example starting on D:

major-scale 

watch-outRemember that we use each letter name only once. This means we can't write Gb or Db in a D major scale, it has to be F# and C#.

arrow

Major scales use the same notes on the way down as on the way up:

major-descending-scale

 

 What are Natural Minor Scales?

Natural minor scales have 8 notes from start to finish.

Starting from the lowest note, the pattern for natural minor scales is:

T-S-T-T-S-T-T

Here is an example starting on A:

natural-minor-scale 

arrow

Natural minor scales also use the same notes on the way down as on the way up.

 

 What are Harmonic Minor Scales?

Harmonic minor scales have 8 notes from start to finish.

Starting from the lowest note, the pattern for harmonic minor scales is:

T-S-T-T-S-3S-S

(3S = three semitones)

Here is an example starting on E:

minor-harmonic-scale 

arrow

Harmonic minor scales also use the same notes on the way down as on the way up.

 

 What are Melodic Minor Scales?

Melodic minor scales have 8 notes from start to finish.

Starting from the lowest note, the pattern for melodic minor scales is:

T-S-T-T-T-T-S

Here is an example starting on F:

minor-melodic-ascending-scale

watch-out

Melodic minor scales have a different pattern of tones and semitones on the way down!

Starting from the highest note, the pattern for melodic minor scales is:

 T-T-S-T-T-S-T

Here is the descending melodic minor scale, starting on F. Notice which notes are different from the ascending scale.

minor-melodic-descending-scale

arrow

 This is, in fact, the same as the descending natural minor scale

  

 What are Chromatic Scales?

Chromatic scales have 12 notes from start to finish.

Starting from the lowest note, the pattern for chromatic minor scales is:

S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S

 

watch-outThere are two ways to write chromatic scales. 

1. The tonic-dominant method. This uses the letter name for the tonic and dominant only once, then each other letter name twice. This method uses the same notes on the way down. Here is a chromatic scale starting on D:chromatic-scale-tonic-dominant

2. The sharps-up and flats-down method. This uses only sharps (or naturals) on the way up, and only flats (or naturals) on the way down. Here are the ascending and descending D chromatic scales written using this method:chromatic-scale-sharps-upchromatic-scale-flats-down

 

 What are Whole Tone Scales?

Whole tone scales have 7 notes from start to finish.

Starting from the lowest note, the pattern for whole tone scales is:

T-T-T-T-T-T

Here is a whole tone scale starting on C:

whole-tone-scale 

arrowWhole tone scales use the same notes on the way down.

 

 What are Pentatonic Scales?

watch-outPentatonic means "5 notes". There are lots of different pentatonic scales - what they have in common is that they are built on a pattern which contains only 5 different notes.

The most common pentatonic scale is the major pentatonic scale. The pattern of tones and semitones is:

T-T-3S-T

Here is a major pentatonic scale starting on F#:

major-pentatonic-scale

arrowThis also happens to be a scale using only the black notes of the piano.

 

Another very common version is the minor pentatonic scale. The pattern of tones and semitones is:

3S-T-3S-T

Here is the minor pentatonic scale starting on A#. 

minor-pentatonic-scale 

arrowThis scale actually uses exactly the same notes as the major pentatonic scale, but the tonic note is different.

 

 

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